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TAP Talk: Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs Speaks on Fossil Fuel-Free Future at Cities & Regions Pavilion

On 3 December, the Cities & Regions Pavilion hosted Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, USA, for a TAP Talk on the possibilities for a fossil fuel-free future. Professor Sachs was joined by Mayor Karin Wanngård of Stockholm, Sweden and Mayor Monica Fein of Rosario, Argentina.

Professor Sachs spoke of the need for a deep transformation toward a world economy that is not based on fossil fuels within the next 50 years. While coal has been the basis of great advancements in human social and economic development, he explained, it no longer provides a safe pathway for growth. Put simply, it is a dead-end:

“We have to decarbonize the world energy system, all of the science concurs on this, that means not small changes but deep changes, not these INDCs [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions] to 2030 … it means that by 2070 according to the baseline for the IPCC we need to be at zero …. zero means a new energy system, means zero emissions vehicles … it means fundamental transformation.”

He applauded the ambitious efforts of local governments like Stockholm, Sweden toward achieving this goal:

“Stockholm is going to get to zero by 2040 … that is the kind of leadership we need … this is the hardest shared global transformation ever attempted in human history … but when you look analytically at the feasibility of this, it is possible.”

Professor Sachs offered three approaches to support decarbonization: improved energy efficiency, zero carbon electricity generation, and switching from fuels (internal combustion) to zero carbon electricity (e.g. with electric cars). He stressed that there is no single path, but a portfolio of paths and policies that communities and policy-makers can choose from to get us there.

Following Professor Sachs’ remarks, Mayor Fein and Mayor Wanngård described the paths their cities are taking. Both stressed the importance of transportation systems, sustainable housing, and participatory planning with citizens and stakeholders:

Said Mayor Fein:

“Every day we work and fight to reduce emissions, change our urban mobility systems, and move to renewable energy systems with the participation of our citizens and city districts to build a more sustainable, adaptable city.”